Raymond Carver

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Themes and Colors
Vision Theme Icon
Empathy and Listening  Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation  Theme Icon
The Secular and the Sacred  Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Cathedral, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.


In “Cathedral,” the lives of a married couple are disrupted when the wife’s blind friend, Robert, comes to visit. While the husband, who is the story’s narrator, initially believes that having Robert in the house will be inconvenient and unsettling, he comes to realize that blindness is not simply a deficit—Robert’s fine-tuned perception adds to the narrator’s own appreciation of the world.

Initially, the narrator imagines that Robert will be strange and…

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Empathy and Listening

While the narrator is able to see the physical world, he struggles in his relationship with his wife. Robert, on the other hand, is blind, but he seems to be quite attuned to the emotional lives of others because he is an empathetic listener. Carver, therefore, configures empathy via listening as a mode of perception that is perhaps more intimate than sight.

The narrator seems to have a difficult relationship with his…

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Intimacy and Isolation

At the story’s start, the narrator is alienated from other people. He and his wife have a tense relationship and they quarrel before her friend Robert, who is blind, is scheduled to arrive at their house. In this fight, the narrator’s wife remarks that the narrator has no friends, and this seems true—he never mentions any, and when Robert arrives at the house, the narrator has trouble holding a conversation. He even struggles…

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The Secular and the Sacred

The tension between the secular and the sacred is an animating force of Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral,” the very premise of which—a blind man healing a man who can see—inverts a popular Bible story in which Jesus heals a blind man. Carver’s story often explicitly and implicitly references religion, which is how many people find meaning in their lives, but Carver argues that a person does not need religion to find meaning—spirituality can be secular, and…

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